Editor’s note: This was originally published in the November 2010 issue of KatharosNow, a high quality monthly online magazine for teen girls. Teen or not, though, read on; there’s something there for all of us.
Ahh… life as a Christian teen. To party or not to party? To date him or not to date him? To lie or not to lie? To do what it takes to fit in or not? These are the questions. One question we don’t have to ask is whether or not Christianity is tough… it is. Throw in the drama of life as a teen girl and you have a veritable rollercoaster. But you wouldn’t even bother if you didn’t already know that the rewards for sticking it out and doing the will of the Father are worth the hassle. There are ways to make it a bit easier, though. Grab your Bible and flip open to Ephesians chapter five and let’s see what God has to say.
A little background first… Ephesians 4:1 gives us the theme of the book. God, through the apostle Paul, is urging the Christians in the large coastal city of Ephesus (and us as well) to live in a way that is worthy of the amazing honor and call to duty we have as the adopted children of God. He uses the word “walk” repeatedly to address the way we live our life. Throughout the book, he draws a picture of how those outside the family of God (Gentiles) walk and asks us to be different. We see how they act, behave, work and go about their daily lives (we’re all too familiar with that way of life) but God calls us to be different, to walk differently in our lives before Him. We are, after all, “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Ephesians 2:10). In 4:17, Paul really kicks off his discussion of how we are to be living, and he keeps it up through chapters five and six. In 5:2, he charges us to walk in love. 5:8 commands us to walk as children of light. 5:15 gives another contrast between the world and how we’re to be. We’re to walk circumspectly (that is, with a cautious eye, a careful step, being vigilant); they act like fools. He reminds us to use our time here on earth wisely because these are wicked times when worldly people are the ones in power and we don’t know how long we have to be an influence for good. In 5:17, Paul draws another contrast between God’s children and those of the world. The world remains ignorant of what God wants for and from us, but we must strive to understand His will.
Ephesians 5:18-21 is where we’ll focus our attention today. This is another contrast between the family of God and the world. They choose drunkenness, but we are to choose being filled with the Holy Spirit. It sounds like a strange substitution, the Spirit versus drunkenness, but when we look more closely, it’s not so strange after all. Paul says drunkenness is dissipation. The word there for dissipation is one that depicts reckless abandon and wild living… especially the kind you see at parties. As Paul goes on to describe being filled with the Spirit, we see a different kind of party… one where we’re dealing with each other in holy and uplifting ways. This passage is structured in a distinctive and helpful way. First, Paul gives the command (Be filled with the Spirit) and then he uses a string of participles (words that end with –ing) to explain how to fulfill the command (for more on this study technique, click here… http://www.comefillyourcup.com/ing-words).
First, we’re to be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” So we’re supposed to go around singing all the time, like some kind of opera or musical theater production? Well, no (go for it if you want, but don’t blame me for the weird looks you’ll get). He’s definitely talking about talking, speaking; the Greek word is just the usual word for speech. I think he’s really getting at the kind of conversations we have. “Psalms” of course is a reference to the book of Psalms, but also other songs of praise to God (think of “As a Deer” or “Create in Me a Clean Heart”). “Hymns” are also songs of praise (think of songs like “Lamb of God”). “Spiritual songs” are those that describe other aspects of our Christian life (think of songs like “Light the Fire”). Our conversations should sound like these songs. We’re talking about how we long to be with God, how we’re striving together for pure hearts. We’re discussing the amazing sacrifice Jesus made. We’re figuring out ways to help each other be more zealous, more productive in the kingdom. The world chooses to tear themselves and each other down with drunken parties and as much craziness as they can pack in. As children of God, when we get together, we’re building each other up, having conversations that bring glory to God and encourage godly living.
Second, to be filled with the Spirit, sing. When you get together with your Christian friends, sing. You don’t even have to pull out song books. Just sing the songs you know already. Having a good, godly song stuck in your head is a great way to stay focused on those things that are worthy of your focus (Philippians 4:8). Try not to worry about whether or not you’re a great singer and try not to dwell on it if the girl next to you can’t keep a tune and the guy across the circle seems to miss the beat every time. That’s not the point. The point is being filled with the Sprit.
Third, make melody in your heart to God. Let’s pause here for a little doctrinal diversion. If you’re a member of Christ’s church, you’ve likely heard this passage used to explain why we don’t use pianos or guitars or any other instrument when we worship God. While that is something we can learn from this passage, you can see that in context, that’s not the point of the passage. With that said, yes… they’re right. This word means singing—just singing. In the past, it meant to pluck a stringed instrument, but at the time of Paul’s writing it meant singing. Even if you take the meaning as “to pluck,” we have the instrument given: the heart. That’s really the point here anyway. Paul is reminding us that our hearts are to be involved in the singing. If you’re just going along with the motions, singing the words, and all the while wondering what’s for dinner, that’s not making melody in your heart. So when you’re engaged in song, be engaged in it: heart and mouth. Pluck your own heart strings, so to speak.
Fourth, give thanks. Paul tells us we should be giving thanks always. Not just in November, but always. And not just for some things, but for all things. Tell your friends how thankful you are for them, for the kind text they sent, for the note on your Facebook wall, for their smile, for their constant friendship. Talk with your brothers and sisters in Christ about your gratitude for the big things in life and the small things in life. Your thankful attitude will help them be thankful too and (most importantly), God will be glorified. That’s Who the thanks should be going to most. To be filled with the spirit and follow this command, give thanks to God through the avenue of prayer that we’re given because of Christ’s sacrifice. Without the blood of Christ, we don’t even have the right to stand before the throne of God in prayer.
Fifth, be subject to one another. I know, it’s not an –ing word (at least not in all translations), but it is a participle, and it is part of how we carry out the command to be filled with the Spirit. Being subject is a tricky concept to understand, especially for Americans with our independent, gonna-get-mine kind of culture. It sounds like we have to give up our rights and take less than we deserve. And sometimes we do, but it works out. It doesn’t mean we’re weak or inferior. It surely didn’t mean that when Christ humbled Himself and took on the form of a bondservant (Philippians 2:5-8)! When we consider others’ interests ahead of our own, we are being Christ-like (Philippians 2:3,4). If you’re tempted to think that this isn’t fair, consider Who you’re serving. Remember that God sees it all and He is the One who will be handing out the rewards when the time comes. You will get yours, so be patient, humble and yes, submissive. Also remember that it goes both ways. If you’re looking only to your interest, there is cause to be fearful. The word in Ephesians 5:21 for “fear” comes from the Greek word “phobos”… and that’s where we get our word “phobia.” Often people emphasize our relationship with Christ to such an extent that they forget He is someone who deserves our respect as well as our fear. We do what we do out of love, but if we fail to be the family of God we are called to be, there is cause for trembling (Hebrews 10:26, 27).
Being a Christian teen isn’t easy. Those who choose not to follow God have their outlets and the ways they find release from the pressures of life. But we have our ways too. And our release valve leads to an eternal release. So try it out. Be filled with the Spirit. Use God’s party pack and find the prize at the end.